Make Architecture






The last thing the landlord expected when he rented a modest Richard Neutra-designed apartment on Strathmore Avenue in the Los Angeles suburb of Westwood to a newly married couple in 1941 was for the spare bedroom to be turned into a workshop. No sooner had Charles and Ray Eames moved in than they kitted out that room with a home-made moulding machine into which they fed the woods and glues that Charles sneaked home from his day job as a set architect on MGM movies like Mrs Miniver.

It was on this machine – dubbed the “Kazam!” after the saying “Ala Kazam!” because the plywood formed in the mould like magic – that the Eames produced their first mass-manufactured product, a plywood leg splint based on a plaster mould of Charles’ own leg. A year later, the US Navy placed an order for 5,000 splints and the Eames moved their workshop out of their apartment into a rented studio on nearby Santa Monica Boulevard.

Charles and Ray’s move to Los Angeles meant not only a new city and a new life, but also a new way of understanding design and creation. This time, Charles would learn how to make it before he decided what it looked like. In other words, the design of the Eames chairs would not be some sort of “pure” expression of form for its own sake but rather something, in a way, even more distilled: an expression of the effort to determine and meet specific needs of materials, manufacture, and comfort. The design would take its form from that process.  In an apartment complex designed by modernist architect Richard Neutra in the Westwood section of Los Angeles (not far from UCLA), Charles and Ray dove into the challenge. Ray described it this way: “The problems [had become] obvious: [the organic chair] could not be manufactured the way as it was meant to be, as a mass-produced object  . . .
So the simple idea was to try to find out, what would make it a mass-produced object.” In other words, they needed to learn how to mass-produce molded plywood in compound curves in order to get the single-piece shell made. The form would come from that.  In the spare room of the apartment, they began to work on a device they eventually  called the “Kazam! machine.” Named not for any strange noise but for its sense of magic, as with the special boxes Charles made for his daughter, Lucia. This machine allowed them to mold plywood themselves. It had a curving plaster mold with energy-guzzling electrical coils running through it. Charles long remembered the terror of climbing a power pole by their apartment to poach enough electricity from the transformer to run the Kazam! machine and the growing conviction he would electrocute himself. Fortunately he survived. They created their plywood in the molding process by laying a sheet of the veneer (a thin plane of
wood—the “ply” in plywood) in the form and then putting a layer of glue on the wood, and then repeating the process, usually between 5 and 11 times. (In the Organic chair, the wood was created by laying strips of plywood, not a whole sheet, into the desired form.) A bicycle pump was used to inflate a rubber balloon and push the wood against the form, giving it shape and locking the whole thing together.

Charles had clearly learned that if you were designing for mass production, you had to discover how to make the tooling—not just the end product—yourself. This was a profound realization, one that dovetailed naturally with his gift for hands-on design and engineering.  But it was deeper than that, because Charles must have recognized that design for mass production was a new animal. All of the dissatisfactions of the finished chairs were a result of not understanding the limitations of the process when he and Eero had designed the chairs. Charles later recalled, “We were setting out to, really, I would say [put] the Frank Lloyd Wright theory, at least my own version of it, to work—and it may have turned out looking more Miesian than Frank Lloyd Wright, but nevertheless it’s one’s own interpretation.”

He continued, “The Organic show was more a kind of a statement of principle.” From a design standpoint, their key conceptual breakthrough was that they moved the plywoodmaterial away from the Aaltoesque slab in the Kleinhans to a shell concept. Charles and Ray would now have to find a way for this material to make a complex curve. As he said later of all the furniture on this path, “We wanted to make the best for the most for the least. It sounds a little pompous now, but at the time it was a perfectly legitimate way to approachthings.” The Organic chairs turned out to be essentially a statement of principle. It wouldtake Charles and Ray five years to make the first pragmatic statement about production, and a full ten years to make it completely.

As America geared up for war in earnest, all technologies were turned to the war effort. Dr. Wendell Scott, a friend of Charles’s from St. Louis who was stationed in San Diego, came to Los Angeles and in a casual conversation mentioned a problem they were having in the medical corps. Braced in the regulation metal splints, the legs of wounded servicemen were ending up in worse shape after being carried than they were with a makeshift one. The reason was that the metal unfortunately amplified any vibrations from the stretch-er bearers. Immediately, Charles and Ray began to explore the possibility of using the mold-ed plywood to solve this problem.  Soon after, they developed their molded plywood splint. It conformed to the shape of the human leg,+giving support through natural form. It also was an extremely honest use of materials, wedding the Eames understanding of the limits of the material to the functional needs of the splint.  Symmetrical holes relieve the stress of the bent plywood, but also give the medic a place to thread bandages and wrappings.

An Eames Primer, Eames Demetrios, Chapter 4, Universe (February 9, 2002)

In 1943 the US Navy ordered 5000 leg splints, allowing the Eames’ to move out of their apartment and set up office on Santa Monica Boulevard. Charles saw the potential for molded plywood and although the patent is for a laminated splint, he includes a plywood chair in the patent, with the idea to create a single-shell chair that would be comfortable without padding and could be quickly mass-produced. Plywood tends to splinter when bent into acute angles. To solve this problem, Charles and Ray cut slits and holes into their experimental chair shells. Discovering that plywood did not withstand the stresses produced at the intersection of the chair’s seat and back, they abandoned the single-shell idea in favor of a two-piece chair with separate molded-plywood panels for the back and seat, the LCW (Lounge Chair Wood). Charles did eventually make comfortable single-shell chairs from molded fiberglass and the molded plywood techniques used to make the splints would eventually result in the iconic Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman from 1956.   –




Traditional timber formwork

Engineered Formwork Systems

Re-usable plastic formwork

Timber Beam Slab Formwork – Similar to the traditional method, but stringers and joist are replaced with engineered wood beams and supports are replaced with metal props. This makes this method more systematic and reusable.

Traditional Slab Formwork – The traditional slab formwork technique consists of supports out of lumber or young tree trunks, that support rows of stringers assembled roughly 3 to 6 feet or 1 to 2 meters apart, depending on thickness of slab. Between these stringers, joists are positioned roughly 12 inches, 30 centimeters apart upon which boards or plywood are placed. The stringers and joists are usually 4 by 4 inch or 4 by 6 inch lumber. The most common imperial plywood thickness is ¾ inch and the most common metric thickness is 21 millimeters.

Metal Beam Formwork – Similar to the traditional method, but stringers and joist are replaced with aluminum forming systems or steel beams and supports are replaced with metal props. This also makes this method more systematic and reusable.

Table or Flying Form Systems – These systems consist of slab formwork “tables” that are reused on multiple stories of a building without being dismantled. The assembled sections are either lifted per elevator or “flown” by crane from one story to the next. Once in position the gaps between the tables or table and wall are filled with “fillers”. They vary in shape and size as well as their building material. The use of these systems can greatly reduce the time and manual labor involved in setting and striking the formwork. Their advantages are best utilized by large area and simple structures. It is also common for architects and engineers to design building around one of these systems.

Modular Slab Formwork –  These systems consist of prefabricated timber, steel or aluminum beams and formwork modules. Modules are often no larger than 3 to 6 feet or 1 to 3 meters in size. The beams and formwork are typically set by hand and pinned, clipped, or screwed together. The advantages of a modular system are: does not require a crane to place the formwork, speed of construction with unskilled labor, formwork modules can be removed after concrete sets leaving only beams in place prior to achieving design strength.

Climbing Formwork – is a special type of formwork for vertical concrete structures that rises with the building process. While relatively complicated and costly, it can be an effective solution for buildings that are either very repetitive in form (such as towers or skyscrapers) or that require a seamless wall structure (using gliding formwork, a special type of climbing formwork).

PERMANENT INSULATED FORMWORKThis formwork is assembled on site, usually out of insulating concrete forms (ICF). The formwork stays in place after the concrete has cured, and may provide advantages in terms of speed, stength, superior thermal and acoustic insulation, space to run utilities within the EPS layer, and integrated furring strip for cladding finishes.

Bubble Deck

Voided Biaxial Slab




(24×36 sheet @ 1/16″ thick = $15.32)

McMaster number: 8630K158
Quantity: 2


Smooth-Cast ROTO – Trial Size
Quantity: 1 Trial Size
Smooth-Cast 300 – Trial Size
Quantity: 1 Trial SizeFOAM
Rigid expanding foam:

Foam-It! 10 – Trial Size Kit
Quantity: 1 Trial Size

Flexible expanding foam:

FlexFoam-iT! X – Trial Size
Quantity: 1 Trial Size

Ease Release 200 – Aerosol Can
Quantity: 1 Can


(12″ x 1/4″-20 thread = $0.58)

McMaseter Number: 98790A320
Quantity: 20 rods


(1/4″-20 thread = $2.75 for 100)

McMAster number : 90499A029
Quantity: 1 box of 100


(24×36 @ .032″ thickness plain aluminum = $26.32)

McMaster number: 88685K21



Phaeno Science Center Formwork

phæno is the largest building constructed from self-compacting concrete in Europe and is significant as a reference object. Without the new type of concrete, the diverse forms of phæno – its jagged angles, looming curves, fractured planes and daring protrusions – would have been difficult to achieve.

In contrast to the standard method of flat formwork building with concrete, Phæno is distinguished by the predominant use of individually fabricated formwork elements and cast-in-situ concrete. Phæno is the largest building constructed from “self-compacting concrete” (SCC) to date in Europe and is therefore significant as a reference object. Without the new type of concrete, Phæno’s jagged angles, looming curves, fractured planes and daring protrusions would have been difficult to achieve. Concrete formwork elements were necessary with which one could have covered nine football fields, reinforced with iron as heavy as 5,000 small cars.  –



Hannah Perner-Wilson

Fabric Column

International Conference of Fabric Formwork

Gaudi Catenary Study

Frei Otto


unfold a surface:


unroll a surface:


bottom-up assembly design and kinematics simulation:

mold maker:

mathematical surfaces:

SPIN CASTING–For-Under-150/


Build a molding machine, and cast variable parts from it.   Demonstrate the variation in casting.






Graduate Design Workshop Final Reviews may be held either the week prior to graduate studio reviews  (May 3–7) during class time, or scheduled as a final exam during final exam week.


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Instructor: Nick Gelpi TA: Skylar Tibbits TA: Varvara Toulkeridou
Class Times, Monday, 1-4pm - room 5-216
4.184 is an intensive introduction to methods of making explored through a wide range of brief but focused 1-week exercises. We'll engage the real and leave behind representation in the focused context of this class gaining skills for utilizing a range of fabrication machines and technologies from lasercutting, waterjet, 3D printing, welding, formworking-molding, casting, gears, joints and composites.
In this workshop we'll constrain ourselves to the territory of the 1:1. Students will represent architectural constructions at full scale and develop a more intimate relationship with technology by engaging the tools and techniques that empower us. We will gain access to the most cutting edge machines and technologies in the MARS lab at the Center for Bits and Atoms.
The second layer of information for this course will be to look at a series of case studies in which construction methods and technologies have played a dominant role in the design process .
Over the past 20 years, architects have focused on the technology of representation to create new ideas of what architecture could be. Looking back today, much of that research failed to substantially change the way we design buildings by focusing on apriori formal configurations. This class makes the contention that this failure comes from a lack of considerations of the potentials within fabrication knowledge. We look to the future of what building might become, given the expanded palette of personalize-able technologies available to us as architects. Students will participate in curious technological and material investigations, to discover the potentials, known and unknown, for these various technologies.
The sub-disciplines of what's drawn and what's built have been compartmentalized and disassociated as the representational tools of architecture have distanced themselves from the techniques of making. At the same time the technologies for “making” in architecture have provided us with new possibilities for reinventing how we translate into reality, the immaterial representations of architecture.


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